Social Distancing and Social Capital: Why U.S. Counties Respond Differently to COVID-19

33 Pages Posted: 22 Jun 2020 Last revised: 13 Jul 2020

See all articles by Wenzhi Ding

Wenzhi Ding

The University of Hong Kong - Faculty of Business and Economics

Ross Levine

University of California, Berkeley - Haas School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Chen Lin

The University of Hong Kong - Faculty of Business and Economics

Wensi Xie

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) - CUHK Business School

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Date Written: June 2020

Abstract

Since social distancing is the primary strategy for slowing the spread of many diseases, understanding why U.S. counties respond differently to COVID-19 is critical for designing effective public policies. Using daily data from about 45 million mobile phones to measure social distancing we examine how counties responded to both local COVID-19 cases and statewide shelter-in-place orders. We find that social distancing increases more in response to cases and official orders in counties where individuals historically (1) engaged less in community activities and (2) demonstrated greater willingness to incur individual costs to contribute to social objectives. Our work highlights the importance of these two features of social capital—community engagement and individual commitment to societal institutions—in formulating public health policies.

Suggested Citation

Ding, Wenzhi and Levine, Ross Eric and Lin, Chen and Xie, Wensi, Social Distancing and Social Capital: Why U.S. Counties Respond Differently to COVID-19 (June 2020). NBER Working Paper No. w27393, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3632620

Wenzhi Ding (Contact Author)

The University of Hong Kong - Faculty of Business and Economics ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong SAR
China

Ross Eric Levine

University of California, Berkeley - Haas School of Business ( email )

545 Student Services Building, #1900
2220 Piedmont Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Chen Lin

The University of Hong Kong - Faculty of Business and Economics ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong
China

Wensi Xie

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) - CUHK Business School ( email )

Cheng Yu Tung Building
12 Chak Cheung Street
Shatin, N.T.
Hong Kong

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